Universal Credit will be with us next year. There have been questions raised lately and it's worth being clear about where we are, when it will come in, and how it will impact on people.
We are rolling out Universal Credit in Greater Manchester and Cheshire regions in April next year - six months before the start of the national roll-out in October. This is the start of a four-year process that will see eight million households move on to Universal Credit and benefit from it.
Universal Credit will create a benefits system that will secure the safety net we are all proud of - with £2 billion a year more in benefits paid out and around 900,000 children and adults being lifted out of poverty - and ensure people are actively helped by the Welfare State into independence.
Currently the system actively holds people back from getting into work and we have a duty to stop this.
By bringing together six major benefits, people will be able to manage their claims much more simply. The current risks people face by moving into work, and the fears they will be worse off, will go.
Universal Credit will remove the barriers that we have under the current system where starting a job means switching from one set of benefits to another and informing councils, Jobcentre Plus and the HMRC.
This mountain of paperwork alone is now enough to stop many people from moving into work. Under Universal Credit, claiming will be much simpler and the one benefit will stick with people as they move from unemployment and into work.
Many of the new rules under Universal Credit are designed to mimic work -whether that is self employed or paid employment - with much more accountability for both individuals and households.
For the small businesses where people also claim benefits, a requirement to do simple monthly reporting will help people keep a closer grip on their accounts and to budget effectively. In many cases it will also help people to grow their businesses. And in fact, I am working the Chartered Institute of Taxation to simplify the system for small businesses.
Most importantly of all, under Universal Credit people will know they are better off in work than on benefits.
We are working closely with Councils to as they introduce localised Council Tax support schemes. The speculation that these will undermine the work incentives in Universal Credit is misguided. It fails to take into account the increased earnings disregards in Universal Credit - the amount that someone can earn before their Universal Credit starts to be reduced.
As well as helping people to move into work, Universal Credit will get people online and closer to the jobs market.
Independent research carried out by Ipsos Mori, reveals that 78 per cent of working age benefit claimants say they use the internet already - clearly demonstrating that being online is suitable for most claimants.
However, we recognise that not everyone is ready to use online services and we are making sure that there will still be face-to-face and telephone support in place for those who need it.
We are working now with councils across Britain to have this support in place - and to ensure the skills people gain from learning to claim online also help them to look for work online.
Our IT programme for Universal Credit is on time and, in fact, and is already being tested by claimants. Rather than a big bang approach we will be rolling out Universal Credit gradually. Nor are not starting from scratch, we are using existing IT systems and building the extra capacity and capability as we need it.
We are working with other Government departments, councils, housing associations and community groups across the country to prepare people for the change. We will even establish a hotline for MPs as the benefit comes in to answer their questions.
Universal Credit is about to become a part of the lives of millions of people across Britain. It will simplify their benefits and ensure their path into work is much easier and clearer. I want everyone to embrace that.
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